You may have noticed that there is an election on.
However, I'm not talking about the one with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton...
If you spend a lot of time in my world, then you realize that I am talking about the election for the next president of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Sometime in the last couple days the candidates were announced and now there is much running about discovering who is supporting whom. Also, we are learning about different positions on the future of the Association. That part is slightly less interesting at the moment (in the small world of UU ministers it does feel a bit like high school). Yet, of course, platforms are more important in the long run than social concerns. The same can be said for questions around general leadership ability and competence.
Since I am not key to anyone's election strategy, I have plenty of time for reflection. This is nice. My Facebook is filled with posts and updates from both campaigns and honestly it will take a while to sift through all the material. Right now, however, I am noticing the electoral system, itself.
In the United Church of Christ (which I and my church are also affiliated with) we elect our leadership somewhat differently. While it isn't the full papal conclave, it also isn't the same as a vote for governor or city council. In fact, it is much closer to the way Congregationalist churches select pastors.
At General Synod this past July we elected the ninth General Minister and President, John Dorhauer. In that case he was the only candidate presented. There was a search committee and that committee gave us one name for an up or down vote. The candidate spent his week campaigning in a way more similar to that of a minister seeking settlement than to a politician seeking higher office. The whole process felt like an extended "candidating week" when a prospective pastor and local congregation try each other out.
Of course, while some of our questions were about the candidate before us, this wasn't our only concern.Those of us who were delegates (and therefore voters) also had to consider the process. Did the search committee behave in the way that was expected of them? Were they duly diligent in their quest for the best candidate? Again, this is just like a congregational search. In this case the conclusion was that they had been and Dorhauer was selected.
Now of course there was grumbling about that. Those of us who hadn't been paying close attention to the search process – – to be clear, people like me – – had thoughts about who else we might have chosen. The debate, in fact, was vigorous and healthy. My fellow delegates to General Synod know that feelings around the election affected other decisions (such as what system of governance to use) as well. Still, I think the process was a good one and the strong discussion certainly helped us refine our wishes for the UCC in the future.
The UUA is actually in the process of changing their system. Previous presidents have been elected outright. People would put themselves into nomination. We would meet at General Assembly. Then at some point during the weekend there would be a vote. This system felt much more like the normal elections we know in state, local, and national government. There were brochures, speeches, fundraisers, and whatever sort of other advertising that could be managed. There are advantages to this system as well. In spite of a certain level of awkward contentiousness, there was plenty of opportunity for having one's voice heard along with the hearing of other voices.
Now the system will be different. This new election is a hybrid of sorts between the old way and what is done by the UCC. There was a search committee that came up with two names instead of one. Therefore we will have an election like usual. Only this time the candidates have been vetted. (Update: My friend Sarah Stewart reminds me that there is a sort of "write-in" or "by petition" option. However, unless someone steps up soon, I don't see them having much of an impact this time around.)
It will be interesting to see how it all turns out. I suspect there will be some tweaking at the end. It is certainly a good faith effort that may bear its own fruit. That said, the election will still be long and probably expensive. If the goal was to prevent that, I don't see how this plan will. If it wasn't the goal, that is fine by me. I love watching elections. While some of them can be annoying, they can also be energizing if the candidates and campaigns do their job well.
Anyway, here are the webpages for the two candidates. I have only met either of them briefly in the past but by reputation they are good folks. The search committee seems to have done a pretty good job.
Here is the page of Sue Phillips and one for Alison Miller. Good luck to both of them!